Fifty years of Lindisfarne – interview with founder member Rod Clements

Emerging from Tyneside at the start of the 1970s Lindisfarne quickly carved out a unique place for themselves as one of British rock’s most original bands. Their pioneering sound, combining acoustic instruments like mandolin and fiddle with their electric blues roots, proved the perfect medium to deliver the catchy, memorable songs provided by the band’s resident writers Alan Hull and Rod Clements.

Tragically, Alan Hull died in 1995 and the original band eventually called it a day in 2003. However, for several years now Lindisfarne have been back in business with a classic line-up of long-time members. Fronted by original founder-member Rod Clements and  Alan Hull’s son-in-law Dave Hull-Denholm, they are joined by Ian Thomson (who was with original band throughout the 1990s and early 2000s) on bass and Steve Daggett (who initially played with the band in the mid 1980s) on keyboards, along with fellow Geordie and former Roxy Music drummer, Paul Thompson.

Ahead of their fiftieth anniversary tour back in the spring I caught up with Rod Clements for this interview. Sadly, Covid came along and, like every other band, Lindisfarne’s 2020 tour had to be cancelled. Some new dates have now been scheduled for 2021 – check the band’s website here. Since this interview took place former band member Charlie Harcourt has also sadly passed away.

DJ: This tour marks the band’s fiftieth anniversary. What can fans expect?

RC: Fans can expect a celebration of the band with five good pals who’ve been working together now in this incarnation for six years. Everyone in the band, particularly, is at one with Lindisfarne. And we’ll be playing our handful of hits and lots of other stage and album favourites we’ve accrued over the years!

DJ: Ray Jackson reformed the band a few years ago and then he retired and you stepped in. What was it like coming back to Lindisfarne again and did you need much persuading?

RC: Well it came as a total surprise to me. I mean Ray, as you say, reformed the band. They actually went out under the name of Ray Jackson’s Lindisfarne which, to be honest, I didn’t think was a particularly good idea, in relation to the democratic spirit of the band. But, anyway, after that he decided to retire. The rest of them decided that they wanted to carry on and they asked me to rejoin – which was a complete surprise to me. It was a surprise when Jacka retired and then a further surprise when they asked me to rejoin. I wouldn’t say I jumped at it straight away. I was very, very pleased to have been asked but I had other things going on in my solo career which I wanted to clear and check out with other people before I made a decision. But everybody I spoke to said, “Yeah you should go for it”. And so I did. I accepted. And I’ve never regretted it once. It’s been great on several levels for me. I don’t know how much you know, Darren, about the current line-up. Have you ever seen us?

DJ: Oh yes, I saw you last time you were at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings two years ago. I really enjoyed it. Fantastic!

RC: Well there’s only been one change since then which is Charlie Harcourt has retired for health reasons so we are down to a five-piece. But I think, if anything, that makes us more of a dynamic, close-knit unit. No disrespect to Charlie, of course. Great bloke. Great musician. But I think we’re more tightly focused now.

DJ: And do you still keep in touch with other former members? Obviously two of the original five are no longer with us.

RC: We are in touch to an extent. We don’t see that much of each other. My focus is on the current band. But obviously sometimes messages go astray and things like that. So we’re in touch when we’re relaying them to the people they’re intended for. And there are historic business connections – old and miniscule royalty payments [laughs].

DJ: You need to make sure you don’t fight over the miniscule royalty payments!

RC: Indeed. It’s all very amicable over things like that.

DJ: You were in Jack the Lad at one point when three of you splintered off from Lindisfarne. Will you also be playing any Jack The Lad songs during this tour?

RC: Well we have done. I’m not sure if we’ve any planned for this time out. For instance ‘Why Can’t I Be Satisfied’ we’ve done with this line-up. That was Jack The Lad’s first single. And yeah – we may well do one or two of my other contributions.

DJ: There’s a website that lists all the bands that played on Hastings Pier in the 1960s and 1970s and so I checked and apparently Lindisfarne played there in January 1975 – but you wouldn’t have been in the band at that point I don’t believe? However, Jack The Lad did play the pier in March 1975. Any memories?

RC: I don’t think I would have been there! I think I’d left Jack The Lad by then and been replaced by Ian Fairbairn and Phil Murray.

DJ: So have you any memories of playing Hastings during the 70s heyday?

RC: Well I remember playing Hastings with a later line-up – although still including Alan (Hull). Because Alan was big friends with Kenny Craddock who lived in Hastings and Colin Gibson (both former Alan Hull/Lindisfarne collaborators). So we’ve had good connections with Hastings for a long time. Kenny, of course, is sadly no longer with us. But yeah it’s a nice town to visit. I think we feel a certain amount in common with it. It’s got a kind of a left-field feel about it. It’s a bit alternative.

DJ: And going right back fifty years ago here. You were in a band called Brethren who teamed up with the late Alan Hull and changed your name to Lindisfarne. Now I love that island. I’ve visited several times but who came up with Lindisfarne as the name for the band?

RC: Well, we were already signed to Charisma Records as Brethren and we were recording our first album when Charisma told us there’s an American band called Brethren and they’re going to be huge and we’re going to have to come up with a new name. And we spent ages trying to think of a name – finding one that suited everybody. And then our producer, John Anthony who produced Nicely Out of Tune (the band’s 1970 debut album), was visiting the north-east and we were rehearsing and he was going through songs with us. And somebody mentioned that they’d been up to Lindisfarne at the weekend – just for a trip out. And John said, “What was that? What did you say?” And so we repeated the name Lindisfarne to him and he said, “That’s it!” When he knew what it meant he said that’s the perfect name for you. And we went eh? Really? Because, you know it sounded to us a bit like calling it Wallsend or something like that. And he said, “No, no – it’s a great name.” And I have to say, the more we thought about it, the longer we mused on it, the more appropriate it seemed. You know, being an island and a tidal island – it’s kind of semi-detached from the mainstream. It stands on its own a bit, as we have done, and it’s very much of itself. And it’s a name that’s served us very well over the years.

DJ: He was totally right wasn’t he?

RC: He was yes.

DJ: And are there any final thoughts you’d like to leave us with?

RC: Just to say we are very proud to be out and about celebrating the original spirit of Lindisfarne, musically and politically. And our stance is we’ve retained the first principles and we’re having a great time doing it.

You can check the band’s tour dates for 2021 by visiting their website here

Photo credits: Richard Broady

Related reviews:

Lindisfarne at Great British Folk Festival

Lindisfarne at Hastings 2018

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